Friday, December 14, 2012

"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" Ideas

As it is the end of the year, I wanted to make sure that my students have exposure to writing by women, people of color, etc. We spent a little time on the Harlem Renaissance, and one of the pieces that is in our book is "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston. I love this essay because she is so positive in it, despite the obvious discriminations she experienced from being a black woman in the 1920s. Anyway, after reading the essay, I had my students watch this TED talk, and then we all wrote a positive experience journal. It was kind of fun to get upbeat for a while, because so much of what we read in English is, let's face it, a bit of a downer.

Pretty Good is Not Good Enough

I think I'll share this with my students today:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to Amaze Your Students

My students are always awed and amazed that I can read Chaucer and sound just like this. Such fun.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I thought I'd post a little more of the writing I've been doing with students. My subject (chosen by my writing group) was anger. I decided to mimic the style of J. Ruth Gendler's The Book of Qualities.


When Anger walks into a room, everyone is instantly on guard. You never know quite what to say and just how to act around her. It’s not just her face, heavily scarred from adolescent battles, or even her reputation as a fighter that silences everyone. No, it goes deeper than that.

Some even say that she has a split personality, because at times she is cold and hard as year-old ice cream and just sits back and stares and stares and stares, while at other times, she is a lit firecracker and only the slightest word or touch will set her off.

Anger spends her days sharpening knives at the local hardware store. All day, every day, grinding, grinding, grinding. She’s very good at what she does. She can put a long, slow edge on a knife or a quick, sharp one, but in the end, they all cut about the same.

She is meticulous about everything she hears and sees and does. She remembers every little detail and insists on bringing those little details up over and over again. She definitely never forgets a wrong, perceived or real. She likes truth but insists that the truth be her own truth. She has no room for anyone else’s point of view.

Sad to say, Anger’s never been very popular.  Nobody wants to see Anger drive up to the house, especially right before dinner.  All the same, she seems to show up frequently, and no one is ever quite sure how she got there. Even though Anger doesn’t have many friends, Pain and Regret do follow her around and often seem to arrive just as she’s leaving.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Discussion vs. Argument (or Just Plain Put-Downs)

For everyone I know and love--keep this in mind this election season:
I really don't think I could say it any better than she does.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Writing with the Kids

Here is some writing I did in front of my students, with my students, in my classes yesterday a la Kelly Gallagher. We brainstormed about the tastes of our childhood, and then I quickly wrote a paragraph about one of mine from my list. Then it was their turn, and they wrote while I edited and revised my original paragraphs. Here are the edited versions--I wish I'd kept the originals!

Lemons with Salt:
Just looking at this is making my mouth water.
I’ve always been a real hoarder—just of things that are very important. So it comes as no surprise that I’ve kept every book I ever owned. Occasionally I go back through those old books, and when I do, I often find brown stains and a gritty substance between the pages. Rather than reducing the book’s value in my eyes, this residue always make me smile. I know what it means—someone (that would be me) ate a lemon with salt and got a little too excited, spilling some of that salty, sour goodness out onto the page for someone else to find years later. Today I can’t eat lemons with salt—it really wreaks havoc with your tooth enamel, but thanks to the stains, I’ll always have the memories of those lazy days spent reading my precious books and enjoying an escape from the everyday world of my small-town existence.

Cheddar Cheese: (this one didn't really get edited) 
Where are the saltine crackers?
Of all the foods we used to have at my mother’s house, there are probably none with as much emotional baggage as plain old cheddar cheese. My mom used to buy it in great hunks cut directly from the even larger hunk the butcher kept in the front case. She didn’t know that there were any other kinds of cheese. American? Never even knew that existed until I went to college. Parmesan? Mozzarella? Gouda? Nope. Everything from pizza to spaghetti was topped with good old yellow cheddar. We even cut pieces from it to nibble on like hairless rodents as we vegetated in front of the TV. So, to me, cheese will always be cheddar, the more the better, and skip everything else.

Hmmm...I think I'll pass....
Pecan Sandies:
As someone who teaches about memories and writing, I am fully aware that some people say that food memories are some of the strongest. If this really is the case, then I should probably stay far, far, away from pecan sandies. Pecan sandies aren’t as common now as they once were, but for you who are uninitiated, they are strange, hard, tasteless little cookies made by those infamous Keebler elves. At some point in my hazy elementary years, I came down with a severe case of strep throat. My parents didn’t believe in doctors, mainly because we didn’t have medical insurance, so they didn’t take me in to see one until I was nearly done for. By that time, I could barely open my mouth, and I was mildly delirious with a high fever. The doctor stood about ten feet away as he looked at my throat, which by now was as white as cotton. It didn’t take him long to diagnose strep. He sent me home with an antibiotic. My sweet mom thought food made everything better, so on the way home, as she filled the prescription, she purchased a box of pecan sandies. For reasons only known to my seven or eight year old self, I ate several and then promptly threw up. That was the last food I had for several days, as I was relegated to laying in bed and drooling into a cup for the next 48 hours. All I kept thinking about was the terrible taste of those pecan sandies, both going down and coming up. To this day, I shudder when I see that ubiquitous yellow package sitting on a grocery shelf. I’m old enough now to know that food can make you feel better, but not when you are too sick to enjoy it. So, when my own kids are sick, I bring them books and video games instead of food, and we all stay much happier.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Books and Art

Here's a blog post that combines two of my favorite things: books and art. Enjoy!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Persuasive Writing in the Real World

I debated about adding this to my blog, but then I decided it's too fun not to. My son sent this letter to me while the BHW (Best Husband in the World) and I were on our second honeymoon in England this summer. My oldest daughter was in charge, and he didn't want to go on a youth activity he had signed up for. She told him he would have to convince his Dad and me to say he didn't have to go. So...he wrote this letter to us.

I've been through a lot of camping and outdoorsy stuff throughout my life. Sometimes it's really fun and a good experience, other times it only serves to be a stressful and unsatisfying experience devoid of any fun or enjoyment. This year's youth conference would not be one that I would enjoy. 

First of all, I've been having a hard time sleeping this week, and it's hard enough to sleep in a tent already. I would have to spend 2 nights in an uncomfortable position for around 8-10 hours while staring at the ceiling of my tent. I'd be very tired all throughout the day with the sun bearing down on me. 

Second, while I can wear white shirts for about 3-4 hours, after a while it becomes unbearable. White shirts make me sweat. Badly. Short sleeved shirts are bearable but having to walk around with a white sleeve shirt all day without changing clothes would be torture. 

Third and probably most important, there's no real reward behind doing any of this, at least not that I'm interested in. In other campouts you get to hike to the top of a mountain, explore a narrow submerged canyon, or find a waterfall. In this campout you just wander around on a patch of dirt and meet people that don't even matter to you because you'll hardly ever see them again because you go to a different school. If I wanted to have fun with other people on a campout I'd rather have it be spontaneous and unorganized so you can actually hang out instead of doing things like "square dancing." The only thing that this trek promises is that it will "build character," which seems to be tagged on to anything that is either boring, painful, or uncomfortable. If I wanted more character, it seems like I'd get it just as easily by putting my hand on a hot stove, locking myself in a box for 24 hours, or pouring citrus into my eyes. 

I'm doing something that I normally wouldn't do (writing a 5 paragraph essay) in order to illustrate how much I think it would be a bad idea for me to go, so don't shrug this email off. I'll look forward to your response.

Well, after reading (and laughing) the BHW and I came up with this response:

I've been through a lot of experiences in my life, too, and I can tell you that often those that don't seem like they will be a lot of fun are usually the ones that end up teaching me the best lessons. I think a lot of it has to do with attitude. 

You may not know this, but there is a chemical in your body called melatonin that helps tell your body when to go to sleep. Your body releases melatonin when you've been up for about 16 hours, when it gets dark, and especially when you have a set time to go to bed every night. That's why it's so important for you and your health to get a healthy 8-10 hours of sleep from 10-11 PM on every night. If not, you are messing with your body's natural melatonin cycle, and that's not good. Just something to keep in mind. 

Sweat is never fun at the best of times. I used to sweat so much that I started using a special kind of deodorant that keeps me from sweating at all. Period. If you are interested, you may want to ask me about it. 

I think that hiking and trekking and even square dancing can be very fun, but it is always more fun when you are doing it with friends. Are you still planning on doing the Camp Halfblood with Chandler? When is all that happening? 

In short, I am okay with you not going on the trek. I am not okay with you sleeping your summer away and sleeping through church. Do you think you could try to clean up some of those bad habits that you've got yourself into? And, if you are not going on the trek, can you please call your leaders and let them know? Also, you should have your sister Megan write us a five paragraph essay and tell us how her job search is coming. If it is anywhere near as entertaining as yours is, I'm sure it will be the highlight of our day. 

Love, Mom with Dad's approval

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Messing Around With IShowU

This is a program I'm considering trying out as a way to read the kids' papers. I'll need to get a little tablet to really have it work the way I want it to.

Monday, May 21, 2012

TIOBE & ... Aladdin & Mean Girls?

I'm going to show these pieces today and let the kids think about any parallels they may have with The Importance of Being Earnest that we just finished last week.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I thought it might be fun to share some more writing. This isn't my best effort, but, hey, at least I'm trying. This was a piece I wrote with my students about an awkward moment:

Denée Tyler

I am going to Arizona for Thanksgiving. I’m not going to the warm, sunny part of Arizona. I’m going to the windy, cold, desolate part of Arizona called Snowflake. Why? Well, my parents and a brother live there, but one of the major reasons for my decision was to see my grandmother. She is 84 years old and still in pretty good health, but I realize that she could be gone at any moment, so I want to visit her again while I can. The original plan was to meet up with her at an extended family turkey fest, but that plan has been torpedoed by the ultimate of awkward situations.

My husband and I have a few guilty pleasures, and one of them is watching a new television show on the CW network called Ringer. In the show, one twin sister, Bridgette, is a key witness to a murder, and Bridgette is too scared to stay and testify, so she runs to her estranged twin, Siobhan, for advice and protection. As soon as the sisters are together, they go out on a boat and Siobhan supposedly goes overboard, leaving the Bridgette the perfect opportunity: take Siobhan’s place and identity, including her husband. Convoluted? Yes. But that is only the edge of the iceberg. As Bridgette continues impersonating her twin, she discovers that Siobhan has been having an affair with Siobhan’s best friend’s husband, who also is supposedly a great friend of Siobhan’s husband. And not only that, but Siobhan (and now Bridgette) still meets and talks to this best friend, Gemma, everyday. What do they talk about? Who the mystery woman is that Gemma’s husband is cheating with.


What does this have to do with the turkey fest? I have many cousins in my Grandmother’s family, but I have two in particular we’ll call Tom and Bob. Well, I’ve just found out that Tom has admitted that he has been having an affair with Bob’s wife. And he’s tired of keeping it a secret, so he just wants to come out in the open and marry Bob’s wife as soon as she and Bob can get divorced. ARGGHHH. This is going to ruin every family get together for the rest of time—or at least until Tom and Bob’s wife get tired of each other and move on to someone else.


As I watched Ringer, I would think about how incredibly insensitive and crass the whole situation was.  I used to find it unbelievable that someone could betray a friend AND a spouse so callously. Now that I’ve seen the situation in my own family, I guess I’ll change my thinking on that. I guess people really can be that self centered and cruel.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Reflections on My Sixth Year

In exactly one week, I will finish my sixth year of teaching. In some ways this has been a great year; in some, the worst ever. I've had to deal with seizures (my own!) seventy-two hour EEGs, and shoulder surgery. I've been more scatterbrained than I ever remember being in my life. I've dealt with reluctant learners, one of whom was my own child. I've occasionally felt like I was doing a great job teaching and often felt like I was the worst teacher in the world.

I think it's probably time for a major overhaul of my curriculum to get me out of my doldrums. We recently read Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher for the CUWP book group, and it really got me thinking about what I'm having my students write and why. I loved what Kelly said in the book about a fantasy meeting with a former student years from now:
"Excitedly, she blurts out: 'Oh, it is so good to see you! I was hoping to run into you some day so that I can tell you that I am still writing essays that analyze the author's use of tone. I  keep a Tone Journal at home, and I apply that skill you taught me twenty years ago in the tenth grade to everything I read today! Let's have lunch some day so I can share all the essays I have written recognizing the author's tone found in all the books I have read since high school graduation."
Instead, he says he'd rather hear about the blog they're writing, or the letter they've sent to every member of congress about some issue.

Anyway, I am going to redo my curriculum so that we're doing a lot more real world writing. For example, this year I had my students write sonnets. Dumb idea. It was painful for them to do and painful for me to read.

One of my goals for this summer (and hopefully to continue through the school year next year) is to read and USE one professional book a month. Actually, maybe I'll try for two a month over the summer. I have quite a few that look like they'd be very helpful if I actually read them. Ha.

Anyway, I have one more week with this particular crop of kids, and I hope they've taken away at least one useful thing from my class this year. They did do spectacularly well on their end of level tests, and that seems to be all that our school really worries about as far as whether I'm a good teacher or not. For myself, I'd like to think the bar is a bit higher.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Scale of the Universe

This has nothing to do with English, but it is incredibly cool:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mottos for Life

Here my students are participating in the annual life motto writing portion of my English 11 Class. What a great bunch of kids!! After reading Benjamin Franklin, we take time to think about a saying that embodies them, then they make a mini-poster of it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Annual Yearbook Post

Once again I am celebrating the completion of our yearbook with a little peek post. This is the best yearbook we've made in the three years I've worked as advisor, and in many ways, it's been the most frustrating. We missed all of our deadlines by about 2 - 3 weeks, and I seemed to be the only one who cared. Sigh. Anyway, here it is. This is the cover.

This is one of our divider pages that further explains our theme:

Here is a shot that shows one of the fun features we used throughout--eyes with page numbers.
We did a fair number of wow pages. Here are two examples:

And we tried to do a modular, sequential book with cutout highlights, etc., so here are some examples:

It was a ton of work, and I am so glad it's done. It's always a great feeling of relief to get it finished. Now we just need to do the insert and make a movie.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blue, Blue, My World is Blue

Here is another sample of my writing from the writing circle groups in our class.

Blue: A Couch Story
Denée Tyler

1981 – Blue Macramé Couch Belonging to David and Sandra D________
A large and roughly handsome football player in the middle of an intense game of “Do You Love Your Neighbor?” slams his full body weight into the couch and breaks the entire macramé frame. The couch is never quite the same, and the boyfriend fades into distant memory.

1986 – Blue Flowered Couch from the Side of the Road in Atlantic Highlands, NJ
A new mother comes home from the hospital to find that her husband has dumpster dived a couch to replace the folding chairs formerly used. Her rear end is eternally grateful even as she soaks the whole thing in Lysol.

1989 – Blue Velveteen Sectional with Double Recliners
Industrious mother dumps entire bottle of rubber cement on a seat cushion while making quiet books to entertain a precocious three year old. After much scraping, soaking, and crying, everything looks almost good as new.

1995 – Blue Velveteen Sectional with Hide-A-Bed
Hyper five and nine year-olds use bed as a makeshift trampoline. All is well until the springs separate from the frame and the entire bed drops abruptly to the floor. No one is hurt, just too scared to tell mom.

1999/2000 – Blue Corner Section of Aforementioned Velvet Sectional
During an epic New Year’s Eve party, the corner section gets one too many fanny-first dives and completely gives way, leading to a chair that now sits approximately ten inches off the ground. Many fingers are pointed, but no one will admit to being the final fanny.

2007 – Blue Velveteen Sectional/Blue Microfiber Theater Group
Family spends all day carting large heavy couches up from the basement. Many walls are dinged, and fingers are smashed. Couch goes to its new home down the street in order to make way for new microfiber theater grouping (all recliners!!).

2009 – Blue Microfiber Theater Group
Family discovers that all recliners can be a bad thing when there is a flaw in the recliner release mechanism. After several of the new chairs break, father gets fed up and replaces the mechanism in every chair.

2011 – Blue Microfiber Theater Group
Family enjoys leisure time together stretched out on their recliners enjoying marathon viewing sessions of The Amazing Race, Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, and Nickelodeon’s Avatar: the Last Airbender (the TV series, NOT the movie). All couches currently in working condition. Life is good.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

As Gods Go, Money is One of the Worst

Yet another fantastic link that I can use with Swift's "A Modest Proposal" this year. Hopefully it will get my students thinking and writing.

I love the references to Ireland -- that's why I think it will work so well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Digital Storytelling - Possibilities?

I went to a conference on digital storytelling recently, and this video was suggested as a possible writing prompt for students. I think this would work in well with a narrative unit at the beginning of the year tied in with Sherman Alexie and Tim O'Brien selections.

I am ______________
Don't judge me before you know me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Perfect Accompaniment to Zombie Haiku

A great way to get students excited about the undead. I love the animation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Replying to Poetry

As I was searching through my renaissance files, I rediscovered this little piece of poetry I penned in 2008 in response to The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.

(Hey, I'm just trying to keep up with Sir Walter Raleigh!)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Validation for Our Class Time Spent in SSR

It think I'll share this with my students and parents.

Verissimo Toste, an Oxford Teacher Trainer, talks about the best way to build extensive reading into your normal routine for best results:

Friday, January 13, 2012

A New Post at Last!!!

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

It's amazing and kind of sad what a few seizures and a shoulder injury can do to your productivity. I feel like I've been sort of sliding along this year, just doing, and not really reflecting or motivating myself or my students, sadly.

Well, I just watched an hour long webcast about Flipping a Classroom that has made me think and got me excited about teaching again. I think there are a lot of things I can do with this. I think it would really help my students if they were writing in the classroom with me there to help them and doing some of the more mundane things at home. So...I am giving my first flip assignment today.

Flipping a classroom is when you move direct instruction and other things that don't require student interaction into the "homework" time and move the homework into class time, so the teacher can be the expert in the room and interact with the students and see how they are doing. It reminds me of what Penny Kittle talks about in Write Beside Them.